Montana Republican candidates show strong leads in U.S. Senate and House races, according to a poll released Friday by Montana State University Billings.
In his bid for the U.S. Senate, Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., had 46.7 percent backing from likely voters polled, compared to 30.6 percent for Democrat Amanda Curtis.
The poll, launched Oct. 6 as Montanans began receiving absentee ballots, included 410 interviews with people reached by landline or cellphone. Students enrolled in the a political science course conducted the statewide random sample telephone survey of adult Montanans.
“Republicans are hoping to take six Senate seats that are currently held by Democrats, and this is one of them that they have their hopes on,” said Matthew McMullen, psychology professor. “We provided some support for their hopes.”
Libertarian candidate Roger Roots received 2.2 percent support from respondents.
Montanans were polled on races for statewide office, as well as President Barack Obama’s performance, Obamacare, the military strikes on the Islamic State, the Keystone XL pipeline, immigration, coal taxes and recreational marijuana use.
Though Daines had a 16-point lead on Curtis in the poll, he had less than 50 percent of the respondent vote. Slightly more than 20 percent of the voters polled were undecided.
A majority of men, 53 percent, backed Daines, while a plurality of women, 31 percent, supported Curtis, who has been aggressively courting women voters.
Among Republicans, 81 percent liked Daines, while Democrat support for Curtis was less strong at 71 percent.
Curtis entered the race in August after Democratic Sen. John Walsh withdrew from the race in the midst of a plagiarism scandal.
Curtis released her first TV ad Thursday. Craig Wilson, MSUB political science professor, said Curtis’ support was better than expected given her short campaign and lack of advertising. The MSUB poll was completed before Curtis’ first campaign ad began airing.
In the race for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat, 39.8 percent of respondents said they support Republican Ryan Zinke, compared to 32.9 percent for Democrat John Lewis.
Libertarian candidate Mike Fellows had 2.2 percent support.
Republicans didn’t back Zinke as strongly as they did Daines, giving the former state legislator 73 percent support. Roughly 72 percent of Democrats supported Lewis.
Among Daines voters, 74 percent backed Zinke. Lewis received 84 percent backing from Curtis voters.
In Montana’s nonpartisan Supreme Court races, incumbent justices Jim Rice and Mike Wheat have strong leads over their challengers, but more than 60 percent of the voters in each race were either undecided or had no response.
“This high undecided really says people don’t know who the hell they are. Even when they hear the name, they don’t know who they are,” Wilson said. “It tends to raise the issue, ‘Do you want to continue to elect judges, or should they be appointed?’ If you really want to have them elected, maybe you should have them partisan, because partisanship means something.”
Voters who would latch on to a party candidate in a partisan race, didn’t know who to vote for in the absence of Rs and Ds on the ballot.
Rice had 27 percent backing to opponent W. David Herbert’s 3.2 percent. Nearly 70 percent of the respondents were undecided or had no comment about the race.
Wheat had nearly 25 percent backing to opponent Lawrence Van Dyke’s 13 percent.
Obama had 60.1 percent disapproval rating among respondents. That’s the lowest disapproval rating recorded by MSUB pollsters since 2011, when it was 57.5 percent. In both of the past two years, Obama’s disapproval rating was 63.3 percent.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, received a 56.2 percent disapproval rating, though most respondents said they haven’t been hurt by the policy and some had been helped by it.
“When you add together the helped and not hurt categories you get about two-thirds of the respondents. Only about 25 percent of the people said that they were hurt,” said Wilson. “When you think about how hard Republicans are running against Obamacare, some of the sting of that issue may have been taken out once it went into effect and 58 percent of the people found, ‘Hey, I wasn’t affected at all.’”
Concerning U.S. military airstrikes on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, Montanans voiced strong support, 74 for airstrikes in Iraq, 73 percent for airstrikes in Syria.
A strong majority of Montanans, 68 percent, supported building the Keystone XL pipeline to route Canadian tar sands oil to Gulf State refineries.
On state issues, 56 percent of respondents opposed a Republican proposal to cut off voter registration the Friday before the general election. Montanans can currently register to vote through Election Day.
Asked about legalizing recreational use of marijuana, 60 percent of respondents opposed the idea, while 30 percent supported the movement.
Respondents also were asked about taxes on coal, which 40 percent said was taxed at about the right rate, while 11 percent said the tax was too high. About 33 percent were undecided about the right tax rate for coal, while 15 percent said the current rate was too low.